contributed by Verity Reign
It’s no surprise that when it comes to the world of mainstream fashion and beauty, our rich hues are very scarce. It’s been this way since the beginning. Growing up, I don’t remember too many brown models. As with each generation, there were a few tokens—Iman, Naomi and Tyra—that were constantly recycled in fashion and beauty campaigns, as if there was a shortage of qualified Black women on the planet to choose from. Every now and then we’d catch a new face, but the buzz around her was so quiet that you barely remembered her name. In 2013, the story hasn’t changed much. #TeamBeautiful’s Ty Alexander wrote, “There is just a small list of designers (Tracy Reese, Carolina Herrera, Rachel Roy, and Diane von Furstenberg) that consistently cast black models to represent their collections during New York Fashion Week. For the most part, we are still merely tokens on the runway.” And while we appreciate these woman designers representing us on their runways, the bulk of their models are still White—which I find a bit strange since they’re all ethnic.
An article on Jezebel went as far as to break down the ethnic stats of models that walked in this year’s NYFW presentations. “Those shows presented 4,479 individual women’s wear ‘looks’ to buyers and press, representing 4,479 opportunities for a model to walk the runway or pose in a presentation. 3,706 of those looks, or 82.7%, this season were shown on white models. Asian models nabbed 409, or 9.1% of all the runway looks. Black models were hired for 270, or 6%. Non-white Latina models had 90 looks, or 2%. Models of other races wore 7, or 0.2% of all looks.” The article also lists 14 brands that felt it unnecessary to use any models of color at all: Araks, Assembly, Belstaff, Calvin Klein, Elizabeth & James, Gregory Parkinson, Holmes & Yang, J Brand, Jenni Kayne, Juicy Couture, Louise Goldin, Lyn Devon, Threeasfour and Whit.
Reflecting on the lack of Black, and color in general, at NYFW infuriates me. Considering that this enormous world we live in is mostly comprised with people of color, there is absolutely no legitimate excuse that models of color didn’t even make up 50%, or 35%, or even 20% of the runway looks. People of color came in at a pathetic total of 17.3% *blank face, side eye*. You’ve got to be kidding me! Designers certainly are to blame; and while I’d love to attack them and call them out for their lack of appreciation for brown people and brown dollars, I dare not point the finger because we’re equally to blame. I hate admitting it, but it’s true; and I’m one in the guilty number.
With specific regards to Black people, who totaled a low of 270 right after Asians with 409 (I know. I was shocked too), high-end designers flood our culture—from our closets to our Hip-Hop and R&B lyrics. Michael Kors, Marc Jacobs and Hervé Léger are some of the most commonly mentioned brands in urban culture, but when I visit each of these fashion house’s websites, I can count the models of color between all of them on one hand and I still have four fingers left over. You do the math. And the one I did count is Asian, in case you’re wondering. Unless I miscounted, which is possible due to my quick skim, or the models are extremely light skin with Eurocentric features–which is also possible due to society’s racial identity complexes, these designers don’t seem to be as into us as we are into them. There are countless others in addition to these that we love to Twitpic and Instagram, but for the sake of time and my limited word count, I won’t compile the unpleasantly long list.
You know the saying, “people treat you the way you allow them to?” Well it couldn’t ring more true in the case of beauty and fashion. If we don’t think enough of ourselves to call out designers and beauty brands for their lack of us, then we really can’t complain when we see little to no people who match our complexion on the runways—as in the case of Alexander Wang who showed one Black model of his 39 looks and Alice + Olivia who featured zero Black models of 34 looks. The time is past due for us to start taking our dollars elsewhere until the same designers we support do a better job of reciprocating the love. There are a host of Black designers we can support who are just as talented, but working 1,000 times as hard as their counterparts to get put on. But that’s a different story for a different day.
Do you feel we are to blame for the lack of Black models and others of color on the runway? Share your thoughts!
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